Thursday, August 19, 2010

A philosophical look at motherhood

Forget the age old question about the tree falling in the forest. There’s a more relevant query to ponder: If a mother isn’t around to hear her children whine/fight/ask for snacks, do they ever really make a noise?
I believe I have the answer to this philosophical question using no philosophy at all.
But before I reveal the answer, let us first determine that for this whole transaction to take place, we need to have a) children making noise, b) air for the soundwaves to travel through, and c) a mother’s ears that are not automatically programmed to shut out the sound of her children’s voices when they start sentences with “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” If any one part of these things do not exist, the question is moot.
But in reality, we do normally have these things. At the end of a wonderful, loving, and did I mention long summer with my young children forever underfoot and overhead, I, for one, know that there is a constant hum of chatter that comes out of their mouths, among other parts. Not a minute goes by when one of them isn’t following me around, a small shadow tracing my steps and asking the most ridiculous requests like, “can we wash the house with bubble soap?”
We also typically have plenty of air in our house. The only thing that would remove air in a physics class sort of way would be to have a vacuum, and I know mine is too busy gathering its own layer of dust. In fact, the amount of air in our house has increased exponentially in the form of hot air, specifically the stuff that comes out of my children’s mouths.
And finally, we require a mother’s ears to be open. And willing to listen. I will be the first to admit that I don’t listen to 87% of the noise my children make. I frequently say things like “uh huh” and “okay” and “that’s great, dear!” without having a clue what is going on. But that other 13% and in particular the comments that require bandages or “what I did to the dog” stories, my ears are perked up like a bunny.
So speaking barely scientifically, all three pieces of the question are present. But philosophically, well, that’s a whole other story. And one that I have the answer to.
There is a family of wrens that have nested in the box that we hung directly next to the back patio where I like to sit in peaceful morning silence until anyone realizes that I am awake. The wren has two broods over the season, and I was lucky enough to witness both.
After the eggs hatch, the mother (or father—they both look the same), fly back and forth non-stop, feeding their hungry babies. And I do mean non-stop. Sometimes the round trip takes only 30 seconds.
But here’s the funny thing about the little baby wrens: they are totally silent the entire time the parent is out of the nest. Dead silent. But the very millisecond that mom or dad peeks into the house with a speck of food, they chatter and sing like nobody’s business.
(Wrens have a very complex song, and while the adult tune is quite pleasing to the ear, a bunch of babies sound as cacophonous as my own children when it’s lunch time.)
The parent wren drops off the food, and once again, the instant the parent is gone, the babies are completely silent.
Processing this birdie behavior returns us to the original question. If a child is whining and there’s not a mom around to hear it, does it make noise? The answer is simple if you look to our friend the house wren:
A child only makes whiny noise when their mother is around to be annoyed by it.
Case closed.

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